By Joyce L. Malainy

According to The National Association of Manufacturers, 88 percent of manufacturers are having difficulties finding qualified workers. In order for central Ohio to remain competitive in the global marketplace, it's crucial that employers are able to find, hire and retain the right people. In a state with no shortage of colleges and universities, a recent survey revealed that the region's top hiring concern is finding workers with the knowledge, training and skill sets to fill specialized openings. Central Ohio's career technical education schools have stepped up to bridge that gap.

Business and education partnerships are a win for everyone involved. For students, the partnerships offer the opportunity to develop a solid skill set while opening doors to future in-demand employment opportunities. For employers, partnering with career technical education centers provides a valuable opportunity to shape a future workforce that will be prepared to meet their anticipated needs.

"Companies should use career tech schools as a resource for creating the qualified and skilled workforce they are looking for," says Mary Beth Freeman, superintendent of Delaware Area Career Center. "When they communicate to us that there is a specific need, we can get to work creating a program that will train students to meet it. Oftentimes, a successful program begins with a simple conversation."

The Career & Technology Education Centers of Licking County, through the effort of Electrical Trades instructor Greg King and Steve Lipster at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 683, created a joint venture with the Electrical Trade Center and the Newark Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee. Launched this year, the pilot program will allow C-TEC graduates in the Electrical Trades program to earn full credit toward the first year of IBEW's five-year apprenticeship program.

Career technical education also meets the needs of the current workforce. C-TEC has vital corporate training partnerships with over 50 corporations in Ohio, among them Ariel Corporation, THK, Bayer, Owens Corning Fiberglass, Hendrickson, and Screen Machine. From constructing training labs to testing and certifying current employees, these partnerships train their current workforce to meet their immediate needs.

In Madison County, businesses like Intelligrated, Nissen Chemitec, Stanley Electric and GraMag are all members of the Madison County Workplace Credential, a program started by Madison County Futures. "The program guarantees students an interview with the companies upon graduation if they earn the credentials while in high school," says Kim Wilson, superintendent of Tolles Career & Technical Center.

At Tri-Rivers Career Center, students receive real-world training on the latest equipment thanks to a partnership between Houser Racing and the school. "Houser Racing needs CNC operators. We bought the GibbsCAM training software and Houser paid for a corporate trainer to teach Tri-Rivers students alongside Houser employees," says Chuck Speelman, superintendent of Tri-Rivers. "The training offers students an opportunity to hone potential career skills, and many have used that training to earn full-time jobs in the engineering field." Once again, career technical education is paving the way to jobs that meet the economy's demands and offering valuable and fulfilling employment for the workforce.

Also recently launched, Eastland-Fairfield Career Center has a fast-track program open to high school seniors and adults. Responding to the growing and immediate need for welding professionals, expressed by business partners like Worthington Industries, Eastland-Fairfield's nine-week course is helping students quickly learn what they need to become certified, prepared and hired for entry-level welding positions.

Partnerships between career technical schools, professional associations and employers are not only good for students, they're good for business. As current skilled workers begin retiring, a greater need for equally skilled talent will emerge. In order to begin closing the skills gap, a new generation must be given the opportunity to rise to the occasion.

With local industry and career tech working together, we can be sure that what students are learning on campus is what our state needs. Shaping the future of industry begins by training tomorrow's workforce today.

Joyce L. Malainy is superintendent of the Career & Technology Education Centers of Licking County (C-TEC).